A weathered, wooden, geodesic dome hangout quietly stands on the western edge of the Apalachee River. Trader’s, with its wrap-around balcony, pier-prowling pussycats and fairytale sunset views of downtown, has been serving up camaraderie and cold beer for 30 years.
Inside, the bar’s atmosphere is warm and cozy—a stark contrast to its cool, igloo exterior. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the water, neon beer lights reflect on the river’s smooth surface. An ever-present, seemingly lazy alligator floats by, two still eyes half-mast, almost sleepy but always hunting.
The beauty behind the bar, Pat Burns, opposite, has been slinging cocktails here for two decades. “My regulars are family.”
They all mingle and greet one another by name. It’s a local living room for transplants from around the world. Austal and ThyssenKrupp folks frequently stop in. Glen “Jonzie” Jones, from Australia; Mark Davenport, from New Zealand; and Bob Warren, from New Jersey, saunter by with big smiles and bigger thirsts.
Trader’s owner Barbara Thompson is their kindred spirit. “I came here from Ohio for a job at Brookley Field.
I thought I was moving to paradise from the recruiting film they showed us. I was 19 years old, had $19 in my pocket, no bicycle and no car. I went to work the next day, ” Thompson laughs. She welcomes her buddies with a quip. “You were boys when you left, and now you look like derelicts, so I know you’ve been up to no good!”
As they shoot the breeze, the comfort level seems more like Thanksgiving dinner than happy hour. “We had a funeral here in 2000, ” the bar owner shares. “Everybody loved Fred. He lived on the Causeway in a houseboat. He was our best friend. We all went up on a Fairhope bluff for the eulogy. Then, we put his ashes in a big wreath of magnolia leaves with flowers and floated them down the river. It was so beautiful! But, the flowers got hung up, and we all laughed, joking that somebody might pull it in with a fishing line and put it on the table as a centerpiece—that’s how beautiful it was.”
The family stories continue. “We used to have a pet alligator, too, ” Thompson laughs. “One time he got in the middle of the road. When police tried to nudge him out of the way, the gator pulled the bumper off the car. It made CNN.”
A Causeway Classic
Thompson fondly recalls how her hole-in-the-wall, tree house-looking bar became home. “Trader’s used to be up the road where Felix’s Fish Camp Grill is now, ” she starts. “It was an old Quonset hut, so small and tiny—the funnest place you ever went!” Unfortunately, it didn’t survive Hurricane Frederic.
Then, Thompson opened a new hangout of the same name just down the Causeway. “It took six months to build this place with all the twists and turns in structure. It uses the same principles as an igloo, all the prisms sit on top of each other, which is what makes it strong.” The engineering marvel has proved worthwhile; it still hunkers in hurricane territory three decades later.
Warm as the setting sun streaming through the windows, Thompson smiles and reflects on her days and nights at the legendary establishment. “I’m just so proud of this place; it’s my heart.”